They descend into the kayak. Daphne has found something, already, to giggle about. She has left one shoe on the dock, it seems. I am summoned to help. Once seated, Lowell doesn't want to risk toppling the boat, I suppose. I don't play deaf; I respond to his entreaty, and at the edge of the dock I bend and pick up her gold flip-flop, for which she thanks me profusely, and then Prince Charming and Cinderella set sail. Which leaves me with the four-cheese tortes with rye saffron crust that I don't mind being the first to cut into, taking out a neat wedge with the knife and admiring its firm, yet creamy consistency. It is flecked with rosemary and ground pink peppercorns: the appetizer other chefs have been stealing and altering almost from the minute Lowell invented it. What none of them have guessed, to my knowledge, is the presence of the single simmered vanilla bean. I bite off a tiny piece, chew slowly, and consider the possibility that anything as ambrosial as this might be interchangeable with love.
The Triple J Cab pulls into the drive as the sun is setting. Kathryn alights from the front seat -- wouldn't you know she'd be so ballsy, she'd sit up front. She seems to have only a small bag with her, which means, thank God, she won't be visiting longer than she said. But then, from the backseat, a skinny woman emerges, holding her own small bag, wearing a beret and a long white scarf, which matches her white shorts and her white tee-shirt, over which she wears a droopy vest. "Paradise!" she exclaims, throwing back her head and enthusing, as if the sky were awaiting her verdict. Yes, indeed -- but who is she?
She is Nancy Cummins -- Cummins without a "g" -- who is en route to a bris to be held in a suite at the Casa Marina Hotel, in Key West. She is an acquaintance of Kathryn's from New York -- a highlighter whom Kathryn arranged to meet at JFK, when it turned out the two women would be taking trips at the same time, almost to the same destination ("Highlighter" -- meaning that she paints streaks in rich people's hair).
I carry their two small bags. Inside one, it will later turn out, is a narcotized kitten.
"Where's my brother?" Kathryn asks. Rushing to also ask: "Did he forget I was coming?"
"He's in a kayak with his girlfriend," I say.
"See?" Kathryn says to the highlighter. "No one meets anybody in New York; you come to Siberia, and bingo."
"Bingo," I say. "I haven't thought of bingo in a million years."
"They don't play games. They read books," Kathryn says to the highlighter, as if I'm not there.
"You know," I say, realizing I'm about to make a fool of myself, but not caring, "when she said you were a highlighter, I thought at first she must mean of books. Those yellow markers you underline with. You know: highlighters."
The highlighter says, "I've always stayed as far from school as I could get."
I put their bags on the kitchen counter. It's only then that the highlighter unzips her bag and removes what I take, at first, to be a wad of material. It is a six-week-old black kitten, sleeping what looks like the sleep of death, though the thing does twitch when she puts it on the counter.
"Isn't it adorable?" Kathryn says.
Oh, absolutely. Now we have a cow, a manatee, and a kitten.
"Did he chill my favorite wine, or did he forget?" Kathryn wants to know, pulling open the refrigerator door. In the shelf sit four bottles of Vichon Chardonnay, with two cans of Tecate at either end, seeming to brace the bottles like bookends. Kathryn plucks a bottle from the shelf and closes the door. I open the drawer and silently pantomime that I would be happy to extract the cork. But no: she's a liberated woman, none of that harmful stereotyping of the helpless female allowed. Flip forward until two A.M., when I'll have the anxiety dream.
The highlighter opens the door and seizes a Tecate.
Excerpted from Perfect Recall, copyright (c) 2000 Ann Beattie. Reproduced with permission from the publisher; all rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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